Posted November 1, 2018 by Chris Hick in Film Reviews

Candyman (1992) Blu-ray Review

“And if you look in the mirror… and you say his name five times… he’ll appear behind you, breathing down your neck. You want to try it?” A starting point for many of the modern horror films from the 1980s and 1990s is a good urban legend (to the point that there was even a franchise of films called Urban Legend starting in 1998). Others are made up, like Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Based off ‘The Forbidden’, a short story by British writer Clive Barker (who also is credited as an executive producer on the film) that formed a part of his first collection of stories (1984-85), published in his ‘Books of Blood’ collection, it does share some of the tropes that were present in his best known work, Hellraiser (1987), which he also directed. Hellraiser put Barker on the map as one of the leading horror writers with a unique style. Previous to Hellraiser he had also written the script to Rawhead Rex (1986) that, like Candyman (1992) and Hellraiser have also been released on Arrow Video.

The location of Candyman has been transposed from Barker’s hometown of Liverpool (a former key town in the slavery trade) to Chicago. Director Bernard Rose makes Chicago very central to the story as it with the famous skyline of Hancock Tower in the background and the heroine as an academic working at the University of Illinois, Chicago and the dangerous Cabrini Green Projects Estate giving the opportunity of the racial segregation of the characters to come to the fore. It is a ‘Pandora’s Box’ story about how messing with urban legends and delving into the dark arts will lead to very dangerous territory. The heroine of the story is Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) who is researching urban legends when she comes across the story of the Candyman, that if you look into the mirror and repeat the word Candyman 5 times he will appear over your shoulder.

In the course of her research, she learns that a woman was allegedly butchered after summoning the Candyman (we have already seen a young woman killed by the bogeyman). Helen visits the Cabrini Green Projects Estate with her sceptic friend,¬†Bernadette (Kasi Lemmons) where these middle-class ladies receive some hassle from local young black hoods. The director creates some tension here with the graffited walls, barking dogs and social degradation. They encounter a hostile single mother with a baby (Vanessa Williams) who warns them to leave. Helen is told that the Candyman was the son of a Civil War slave who entered polite society, but after siring a child from a white woman he was chased by a lynch mob, his hand cut off and left to be stung to death by bees. His corpse had been burned on the location of the estate. Contrary to Barker’s intention, this sets the back story of the Candyman among other slasher bogeymen as Freddy Kruger, Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers, although this character has a more tragic (and political) backstory.

Candyman appears to Helen and woos her to be his victim, that “Your death will be a tale to frighten children, to make lovers cling closer in their rapture. Come with me, and be immortal.” She naturally runs away but finds that when he appears and butchers his victims, she is blamed and accused of the violent murders, leaving the viewer to wonder if Helen is really the murderer and the Candyman is a figment of her imagination.

Candyman is a satisfying translation of Barker’s story, who admits as much in a documentary extra on the disc. Rose too is giving good credit by all involved for doing a good job with the film and Philip Glass provides some an excellent soundtrack. What is puzzling in the film, given the back story is that Candyman distinguishes little between his white or black victims. Candyman himself though is brilliantly played by Tony Todd with his booming voice and presence. The scene in which the bees emerge from his mouth are still effective with no CGI used as it would have if made today. On an extra on the disc about the special-effects and make-up it is explained that Todd used a gum shield and was assisted by a ‘bee wrangler’.

The extras are very thorough on this limited edition release from Arrow Video with the highlights being Barker’s own words in which he speaks about the film adaptations to his stories, his relationship with his parents and the success of Hellraiser. Another is a discussion on the film by film and black history writers¬†writers Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes who discuss the race politics of the film and putting it into the context it was made. There are also a couple of commentary tracks with Rose and Todd and another with Kim Newman and Stephen Jones. Other featurettes include an interview with Todd, another with Madsen and one of the films production design. In addition there are three early short films by Rose in this handsome package of one of the real classic 1990s horror films.

Chris Hick

Chris Hick